July 9, 2012
Old Habits Die Hard, Part I: SMART Publish or Perish for Serial Law Titles in the 21st Century
|While not discussing hardware monitoring (see Wikipedia entry for that), the all-caps format for "SMART" in this post's title is used intentionally to echo "self-monitoring, analysis and reporting technology" in the context of anticipating failures for generating reliable legal content research, analysis and communication at the intersection of publisher and consuming reader.
Of course, it could a "good thing" if AALL would someday set an example by getting SMARTer. Apparently that is too much to ask from an "old habits live on" publisher whose intented audience is 21st century legal information professionals right now. Failure at the intersection of publisher and audience in print-bound AALL publications like LLJ and Spectrum, make many law librarians who live in the 21st century professionally embarrassed by their association's mimicry of an obsolute publishing format when LLJ and Spectrum are e-disseminated.
For a recent failure example, there was clearly insufficent LLJ editorial oversight during the mocked-up production of dialog between two law librarians that confused the new WEXIS platform with WLN in a recent LLJ article. See "WestlawNext": What happens when a brand becomes synonymous with the negatives of all similiar products. On Nota Bene, Dan Baker stated the case explicitly, along with quoting text to illustrate the point at Yet Another Lexis Advance Polemic: A Reply to Sellers & Gragg ("[N]early every statement made by the authors about WestlawNext also applies to Lexis Advance".)
A SMARTer LLJ publishing platform would allow the authors of their fossilized-in-print article to clarify their statements.
"The page volume of law reviews has proliferated beyond reason with no corresponding rise in compelling content" is the pull quote from Walter Olson's article, Abolish the Law Reviews!, in The Atlantic. The case Olson makes against law reviews isn't new. But for compelling content, he promotes timely online published short-form works that OSU law prof Douglas Berman characterized during the early days of law prof blogging as "scholarship in action". Olson writes:
One way or another, some scholarly apparatus will be found to publish meritorious longer articles that advance the mission of serious research into the law. But when it comes to discussion of timely controversies, slash-and-thrust debates, and other forms of writing that people actually go out of their way to read, there's no doubt where talented legal academics are headed: to blogs and other shorter-form online publications.
... Professionally edited web outlets (including The Atlantic) allow law professors to get their arguments before an intelligent audience in hours rather than weeks or months. As online law writing has taken off, readers are rewarding qualities like clarity, concision, relevance, and wit, and steering clear of pedantry and mystification.
Sounds good, right? One question is whether long-form legal scholarly works will end up only being published in peer-reviewed law journals like the rest of university scholarship is? If not, I have my doubts that the mission of serious law writing will be well-served. Being realistic, however, I seriously doubt the student-edited law review will disappear any time soon, if ever (unless law tenure standards are ratched up to conform to the norms very well-established for other disciplines "on campus").
A much more important question is how the long-form law article should be published. Mark Giangrande makes the case for electronic publication of law reviews. While some law reviews have experimented with online supplements to their print titles, Mark calls for the enhanced law review article in Don't Abolish the Law Review, Adapt It:
I think a law review could easily exist online with the same editorial standards that appear now. In fact, I think they would have a better life online by adopting some of the features of online publication. The footnotes, for example, could lead to live sources, and at the very least PDF versions of the information. The “last visited” could be replaced or augmented with snapshots of sites as they existed at the time of the research. There need not be “on file” notes with some content.
Moderated comments could aid readers as well. The articles can be updated and revised over time. West does it with weekly updates to ALR online. Law faculty can take charge of revisiting their content. There is precedent for that with SSRN as a pre-publication outlet with some faculty having multiple drafts of the same article on the site. I’m sure a law review editorial staff could develop standards for publishing revisions.
My biggest problem with law review content is that even when it is presented online it still generally conforms to print. Maybe it’s the Bluebook mentality. There is the possibility of an enhanced presentation of an article if someone can set standards in light of the available web features. One or two respected titles can lead the way. The rest will likely follow.
With enhance law eBooks at one end of the spectrum and law blogs at the other end, I believe it is inevitable that the long-form law article will adapt to the new normal of electronic publishing. Whether it begins with academic law serials, commercially published law journals, or ABA journals remains to be seen. But eventually, reader expectations will push the long-form law article into the 21st century of e-publishing.
In the process one can only hope that law journals and enhanced regularly updated serial law eBooks will also eliminate the print era version of date-stamping by ceasing publication of "issues" for journals and, for serial eBooks, scheduled "supplements" or "editions." As soon as the text has completed the editorial process, just e-publish the damn thing immediately.
Old publishing habits die hard, but it is time to create new ones by eliminating print era legacies.
Endnote. A case in point on killing off print era legacies -- this is "part one" of a series of blog posts on "old habits die hard" but I don't even know what the hell the topic for part two in this series will be right now, when it will be published, or how many parts to this post series I will get around to writing and eventually publishing. Plus, based on past experience of "thinking out loud", there is no doubt in my mind that some "parts" will be drafted but never be published. [JH]
Nice post, having useful information for public... thanks for sharing...
Posted by: Dallas Contract Attorney | Aug 24, 2012 10:36:34 PM
There is plenty to be said for expanding short-format scholarly debate online in fora such as LawProfs, Volokh, etc. There is even much to be said for culling the oversupply of vapid hot air found in law reviews. But the proposal to push over print publishing and all of its conventions is shockingly short sighted.
First, the adoption of instant-update electronic publication and the jettisoning of discrete "edition" or "issue" identification guts one of the legal profession's most important priorities: verifiability of citations. If a publication, Titus on Torts, is merely an abstracted title referring to an ever-changing text, with prior versions being neither discretely identifiable nor retrievable, it is impossible for a reader to have any confidence in a writer's citation to it. There simply is no way for the reader to have any understanding of what version of the text the writer supposedly viewed, and no way---much less an easy way---for the reader to verify what the text might have said when the reader did. Even if prior versions were retrievable, without publication date stamping, the writer cannot tell the reader which version to retrieve.
Second, such a publication process invites sharp practices by publishers and writers. Print publications hold authors and publishers accountable: the words are there on widely distributed pages, practically if not technically indelible. But "instant update" electronic publication allows correction of mistakes, erasure of unpopular positions, alteration or deletion altogether in the face of criticism. For every edifying potential instance of such acts, we can think of at least another, and probably more, that are unjustly censorious, manipulative, and dishonest.
Third, electronic publications are fundamentally ephemeral. We tend to think of things on the internet as being profoundly permanent, and for discovery purposes they often are. But our headlong race to put all of our intellectual eggs in the e-format basket reveals a confidence in the durability of electronic data storage that is based largely on untested assumptions. We simply assume, for instance, that we won't lose electronically stored information to solar electromagnetic interference. But we can't even pretend to have sufficient data about the weather cycles on a billions-of-years-old star to reach real conclusions on the topic.
Fourth, the insistence that all consumers of information be more or less compelled to rely solely on electronic formats reveals a whole other set of unexamined assumptions about the various personal and social costs associated with consuming all information in an interactive, hyper-linked, screen-based format. Maybe an ever-increasing diet of blinking screens, soundbites, and hyperlinks is precisely what every human being needs. But nobody even bothers to ask, because e-publishing is new, fast, and cheap, so it must be "better," in whatever sense we might use the term.
Fifth, to play to basest instincts, nothing becomes more superfluous than a law librarian once we shove everything into a computer. The F1 button is worlds less expensive.
Posted by: Titus | Jul 10, 2012 6:42:09 AM